It sounds like something out of the McCarthy era, but I just checked the calendar on my computer, and I swear, it’s still 2014. Although I’m sure that there are many people in the world living in an alternative universe, I still find it startling that Israel, despite all sanity and scientific soundness, announced this week that they are outlawing fluoridation throughout the State.
Ignoring advice of public health and dentistry experts in her own ministry and academia, Israel’s Health Minister Yael German has decided to prohibit the fluoridation of drinking water around the state of Israel, according to the Jerusalem Post, Regulations allowing fluoridation in Israel were introduced in 1974, and made mandatory in 1998. New regulations, beginning August 26, will end fluoridation in Israel for 5.3 million residents, says the Fluoride Action Network, a group dedicated to turning back the clock and eradicating what they describe as the menace of “forced medication” through the practice of water fluoridation.
But not everyone is grinning. And they’re not keeping tight-lipped about they’re objections, either. Medical professionals are hemming and hawing, and dentists are angrily shaking their heads. But it’s not like they didn’t see this coming. Apparently, German’s anti-fluoride stance was something she’d always been open about, as the Jerusalem Post explains,
“Just weeks after entering office as health minister, she declared that she would stop fluoridation and, encountering fierce criticism from critics in leading Israeli schools of public health and dentistry and from her own ministry experts, she wavered and suggested as late as June that fluoridation could be an option instead of being outlawed. “
Critics of the outlawing fluoridation say that many large, diverse families in Israel, including Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews, tend to live in poverty with low access levels to regular dental care. And the truth of the matter, the science isn’t the reason for change of heart over fluoride. In recent years, anti-fluoride conspiracy nuts have pointed to “forced fluoridation” as a libertarian issue, calling the addition of fluoride to the water supply “medication” and often relying on junk science to claim that “fluoride causes brain damage.” Members of the John Birch Society have often claimed that fluoride is a tool of the government, meant to “brainwash” people who consume it, while others in the “natural health” community have claimed it causes cellular damage and cancers. (In response to claims that fluoride contributes to cancer, the American Cancer Society states, “Scientific studies show no connection between cancer rates in humans and adding fluoride to drinking water.” (http://www.ada.org/public.aspx, http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts11.html) and http://www.cancer.org/docroot/PED/content/PED_1_3X_Water_Fluoridation_and_Cancer_Risk.asp?sitearea=PED)
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, optimal exposure to fluoride is important to infants and children. The use of fluoride for the prevention and control of cavities is documented to be both safe and effective. In fact, “Children who drink fluoridated water as their teeth grow will have stronger, more decay resistant teeth over their lifetime. A 2010 study confirmed that the fluoridated water consumed as a young child makes the loss of teeth (due to decay) less likely 40 or 50 years later when that child is a middle-aged adult.”
Water fluoridation is not considered to be “medication”, because it occurs in nature at generally lower rates than what’s in the tap water, like many minerals that are used to fortify our food and drinks. Fluoride exists naturally in virtually all water supplies- even bottled spring water. If fluoride is toxic, or dangerous, then anti-fluoride quacks should take note: it’s not safe to drink juices, eat shellfish, meat, cheese or other foods that contain trace levels of fluoride.
Prof. Arnon Afek, German’s director-general, knows the science is junk. But that’s not what it’s about, he says. Afek is an expert in pathology and medical administration. (” but not dentistry or public health”) Here’s what he told the Jerusalem Post:
“Mandatory fluoridation is medical treatment. Individuals have the right to decide if they want it or not. The question is not if fluoride is beneficial but how it should be delivered. We cannot force people. It is legitimate that experts in the field oppose the health minister’s decision, but we have a policy,” said the director-general. “The ministry supported it for over 40 years, but this is a new era. The world has changed, and we can educate parents.”
Medical and dental professionals in Israel remain disappointed and afraid of the end result of this extreme anti-public health action. Last Sunday, they sent a last-ditch effort letter to the media, expressing their frustrations with the new policy. Among the signatories were Prof. Jonathan Mann (former dean and now head of community dentistry of the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of dental medicine; senior expert in dental epidemiology at the same school), Prof. Ted Tulchinsky, a former senior Health Ministry expert in public health, and many other dental and medical professionals.
“The health ministry decided, in complete contravention to the views of public health experts — including those in her office — and many MKs, that her view is more important. She is the first-ever health minister not to listen to the advice of professionals and bring to her office ideology that is not based on scientific facts and irresponsible decisionmaking, to say the least.”
“The public health experts said that fluoridation prevents cavities and minimizes social gaps, and that German has totally “ignored” the Adin Committee’s recommendation to fluoridate desalinated water. ‘The minister’s decision is amateurish and liable to cause long-term damage to Israeli children and adults, making their health situation poorer, especially on the economically and educationally disadvantaged.’ Every year, they continued, 500 children are brought to hospital emergency rooms for treatment of bodily complications of rotten teeth. Her decision ‘is liable to increase this number many times over,’ the professors declared. ‘Until she became minister, Israeli society enjoyed a dental and social Iron Dome” that protected their teeth, but ‘German canceled this.'”
So German thinks it’s a violation of civil rights to “force” Israeli and Palestinian families to preserve their dental health, and that justifies putting hundreds of children at risk for diseases of the mouth, “because Freedom”? That sounds heart achingly familiar.
The terrifying logic follows that this disturbing pattern (like many libertarian ideologies) trumps all logic and sound medical advice; the way things are going, mandatory vaccination could be next on the cutting block.
What year is it again?